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16 Sep 2019 6:20
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  •   Home > News > International

    Privilege is the hidden ingredient for success that we don't talk about enough

    Work hard, fail often, have passion and persistence and learn from your mistakes: but there's one key ingredient of success missing from this list, writes Marnie Vinall.


    The business world's most celebrated success stories all seem to have an opinion on what it takes to reach your goals and dreams.

    They'll tell you that all you need to do is work hard, fail often, learn from your mistakes, focus on your passion and persist until you reach your goals.

    It's true that all of this is valuable advice. But there is one ingredient that impacts success more than any other and it's rarely mentioned in boardrooms or promoted at conferences.

    And that is privilege.

    From the socio-economic situation we are born to, or the education we receive; to the colour of our skin and gender we identify with: all of these things affect the opportunities we are offered.

    We exist in a world that uses systems which favour some over others. Everyone's road to success looks different.

    Some are climbing a mountain while others must smash a glass ceiling before they reach basecamp.

    The idea that we are in control of our path to success seems more within reach to those with circumstances that give them more control.

    Wisdom can come in all shades

    The two co-founders of the digital marketing agency I work for recently attended a conference hosted by superstar life coach Tony Robbins.

    They were brimming with insights upon their return and ready to share their newfound wisdom.

    The entire office gathered in a meeting room to listen to a presentation on the conference.

    I couldn't help noticing that all the speakers discussed were white men.

    A recent Australian study claimed there are more chief executive officers named "Andrew" heading ASX 200 companies than there are women. It backs similar research into names like John, Peter or David.

    What's in a name?

    Barriers exist not only when entering the business world, but also in progressing once in there.

    Australian entrepreneur and chief executive and CEO of China Australia Millennial Project, Andrea Myles changed her name from Andrea to Andrew on LinkedIn in an experiment to see if she'd receive less misguided messages.

    In a personal essay, she noted, "the response online was instantaneous".

    She noticed that she was taken more seriously and had her content re-explained to her less.

    She also claimed, "I was connected with men of higher levels at more well-recognised companies.

    I'm not saying that Robbins doesn't deserve his success. He's brilliant. Watching him talk about his drive makes me want to take a nap.

    However, his success has come with benefits from a system built for his gender and skin colour.

    Does having an ice bath every morning help you stay motivated? Sure. But so does having a conventional male name when getting people to read your emails and agree to meetings.

    The fact is, the barriers Robbins has encountered in his life are vastly different to those of people from minority groups, even if they come from the same country as him.

    Is moving on really that easy?

    New York Times best-selling author, speaker and internet personality Gary Vaynerchuck is renowned within the marketing world for giving some of the best advice on achieving success.

    In one of his most popular YouTube videos, he says that if you hate your job, you should just quit and find another.

    "Go do your thing, you're gonna die," he exclaims. "It is your mum? Is it society? Is it your partner? Why are you not willing to take one step backwards, for a step for the rest of your life?"

    For many, quitting your job and getting by while looking for your dream one isn't practical. The unemployment rate in Australia remains at 5.2 per cent, despite the creation of 42,300 jobs in May, many of which were part-time.

    And Commonwealth Bank economist Belinda Allen has attributed more people looking for work on "weaker household income growth, housing affordability and low return on investments for older workers".

    For many, quitting jobs and finding others that match their passions and dreams will also prevent them from keeping a roof over their heads.

    The step backwards Gary recommends, for those already scraping by, is homelessness or an inability to put food in their kids' mouths.

    Robbins's current mission is to feed a billion people.

    One of his most popular quotes is, "hunger is the only differentiation in people; it's not talent".

    Although he is talking about drive here, I can't help but notice the irony. Hunger, indeed, might be the only differentiation in reaching success, but not in the way he's describing.

    Different barriers

    Those that achieve what seems impossible and reach great heights of success deserve recognition. But it also should be recognised that privilege is a huge factor in helping them get there.

    We all don't start on the same racing track. We don't even all start on the same playing field, let alone a level one.

    The barriers to success are different for all of us.

    It's time we recognise that when we talk about how to achieve success.

    Marnie Vinall is a freelance writer.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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